116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Normally, county auditor races aren't much of a head-turner.
But Tuesday's Democratic primary in Linn County is intriguing. Auditor Joel Miller is being challenged by former county supervisor Jim Houser and Deputy County Treasurer Brian Gradoville.
I've gotten to know Miller as a source. I don't know him personally. I don't pal around with public officials.
Because, if we were friends, it would be tougher to say that I think Miller's abrasiveness dial needs adjusting, and that his skin is too thin for his own good. If he were a doctor, his bedside manner would need a transplant. And I think he managed quite nicely to turn an oddly timed, politically sensitive, but entirely manageable, investigative request to turn over a laptop into a four-alarm train wreck for everyone to gawk at, long and hard. Not smart.
See what I mean? This is why I don't make friends.
But I'd like to see Miller keep his job. Here's why.
Lots of politicians promise to shake up the status quo. Very few do it. Many take a seat, admire its unexpected comfort, fall in line and keep their head down, hoping to hold that comfy perch. They begin to think more about how their actions impact important folks inside government's bubble and less about folks outside.
But a few do take risks, trying to change the way things work. They raise tough questions and question long traditions and push stale bureaucracies to explain themselves. And they make the comfortable perchers very unhappy.
Miller has made mistakes, clearly. The laptop debacle was trust-shaking, no doubt.
But I find him to be, more often than not, in that second category. He's taken risks. Just think how much easier his life would be now if he had simply fallen in line. He'd have no primary. He'd be poised to keep his perch indefinitely.
Instead, he opted to shake up the way the county tracks its purchases and accounts, how it safeguards our money. He filed an uphill lawsuit trying to carve out authority to do more. He's clashed and dented. He's a troublemaker. And now, the county's body politic is trying to shed this irritant. You'll note that both Democrats and the Republican seeking to unseat him are all either former or current county officials. Telling.
Category 2 politicians do often lose. Cage-rattling has consequences. Or they get tired of banging their head against a wall and finally quit to spend
more time with their sanity.
Miller shows no sign of giving up. I hope Democrats value that Tuesday.